Judge: remote-working exec doesn’t support jurisdiction
Tech companies feud over deal that soured
By: Pat Murphy September 10, 2020 (Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Article)
Massachusetts courts do not have personal jurisdiction in a contract dispute between foreign tech companies based on the fact that the chief operating officer of the New Hampshire plaintiff worked remotely in Boston, a U.S. District Court judge has determined.
The plaintiff, Collision Communications, filed suit in federal court in Boston against Finnish company Nokia Solutions and Networks Oy.
The plaintiff argued that personal jurisdiction existed in Massachusetts because: (1) its chief operating officer, Jared Fry, worked in Boston during the relevant time period; (2) representations that Fry made during contract negotiations were central to the parties’ dispute; and (3) Nokia understood that Fry worked in Boston when he participated in contract negotiations.
But in transferring the case to New Hampshire federal court, Judge Allison D. Burroughs concluded that the cited contacts did not give rise to personal jurisdiction.
“Massachusetts cannot be said to have an interest in adjudicating a dispute between a New Hampshire company, incorporated in Delaware, and a Finnish company, merely because the latter directed communications to an employee of the former who happened to be in this state,” Burroughs wrote.
The 23-page decision is Collision Communications, Inc. v. Nokia Solutions and Networks Oy, Lawyers Weekly No. 02-357-20.
“On the facts alleged, Defendant did not choose to work specifically with Fry over Plaintiff’s New Hampshire-based employees, nor did Fry work from Massachusetts at Defendant’s request or to Defendant’s benefit,” Burroughs wrote. “As a result, Defendant’s contacts with Massachusetts are ‘too fortuitous and incidental to fall within the reach of the Massachusetts long-arm statute.’
Finally, Burroughs recognized that even if the Massachusetts long-arm statute provided for jurisdiction, the court would still lack jurisdiction under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
“Here, … Defendant neither purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting business in Massachusetts nor reasonably anticipated being haled into court in the Commonwealth merely by communicating with one of Plaintiff’s employees, who happened to be working from Massachusetts rather than from the company’s headquarters in New Hampshire,” Burroughs wrote. “Such contacts reflect ‘the unilateral actions of another party,’ rather than Defendant.”